Welcome to our coffee notes series! This entry focuses on "Floral" notes.
See our entry regarding "Fruity" notes here.
What are Coffee Notes Generally?
Just like other beverages- beer, wine or tea, for example- coffee too hosts a whole range of flavors, hints and aromas. These flavors can be quite different, and there is even a whole flavor wheel developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America that includes all the different categories of tastes and scents and how they fit on a flavor spectrum.
But what about coffee “notes”? The description of particular coffee “notes” are a convention to let drinkers know what types of aromas and flavors they may encounter when drinking that particular type of bean. The notes are determined by a multitude of factors, including the type of bean used (Arabica versus Robusta), where the beans came from (origin and terroir), and how the beans were roasted- dark roasted versus light roasted beans will have different flavors and aromas even if from the same origin. The way a coffee is brewed matters, too. A standard hot brewed coffee and the same bean Dutch Cold Brewed will have different notes to offer.
A lot of this boils down to science and chemistry. The way certain sugars and lipids are characteristic to particular beans, the way the nutrients in the bean’s original soil imbue the beans with particular flavors and aromas, and eventual the brewing method of the coffee beans all play roles in determining the tasting notes encountered in your cup of coffee.
Wheel o’ Flavor
The different note flavors are categorized in a sophisticated wheel produced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America based on the World Coffee Research team lexicon of particular scents and flavors. The wheel has three different levels of granularity for coffee notes.
The highest level of generality for notes according to the wheel include fruity, sour/fermented, green/vegetative, “other”, roasted, spices, nutty/cocoa, sweet and floral. It’s this last one, floral, that we will discuss in more detail here.
What are Floral Notes in Coffee?
Floral notes of coffee beans highlight the fragrance of the flowers of the coffee plant. Some of the specific strata of the floral group include flowers such as rose and jasmine- these scents are present on the flowers of the plant.
The presence and strength of floral notes in coffee are dependent on many factors, including how the coffee is processed and how dark the roast of the beans are. Compared to other groups of notes, floral notes are a tenacious group- even in a very dark French roast, the floral character still remains. However, the flavor and level of sweetness of the floral note will shift depending on how light or dark the roast is, with light roasts yielding a very sweet floral aroma and flavor, while darker roasts present floral notes as evanescent.
Floral notes can mostly be found in Arabica beans, but Robusta beans cultivated at higher altitudes and subjected to the wet-processing style of preparation will also yield floral notes. The most famous of coffee beans that demonstrate excellent floral notes would be Ethiopian origin coffee beans. For those who have had the pleasure of enjoying Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, you may have noticed the fresh and garden-like smell and taste that the beans exhibit.
Floral Note Variants
Within each of the major groupings of coffee tasting notes, there are sub groupings of myriad types as well. For floral tasting notes, the broadest note grouping splits into “black tea” and into a further subcategory of “floral”. The sub-section of floral often take on lighter, more sensual flavors and aromas that are strongly reminiscent of blossoms and flowers as compared to the black tea grouping.
The black tea tasting note can also often be found amongst coffee beans from another African country, Kenya. Kenyan beans can possess multiple flavor notes but, compared to other origins, Kenyan beans chiefly demonstrate the black tea floral note flavor/aroma subcategory. A specific bean from a different origin that carries the black tea floral tasting note would be the Ethiopian Guji Sibama.
The other sub-section of floral splits off into three smaller strata: chamomile, rose and jasmine. The names alone give one the image of a bright, warm and aromatic garden, apropos of the qualities of these floral flavor notes. The aroma of this coffee- unbrewed or brewed- elicits a recollection of a bouquet. Ethiopian origin beans often masterfully represent the tasting notes of chamomile and jasmine. As for jasmine, Ethiopian beans also often commonly carry this note, but so too do Panamanian beans.
Appreciating Coffee Notes is a Learned Process
Coffee is as much of an art as tea or wine. And the tasting notes can make every cup of coffee unique as well as really livening up your coffee experience with variety. When it comes to tasting notes, different means and modes of cultivation and processing all play a role in imbuing each coffee bean with a whole host of tasting notes. These notes come through both in aroma as well as the general taste.
The next time you enjoy a single-origin Ethiopia, Kenya or Panama, try to notice the aroma of the beans before, during and after brewing. Try to pay close attention to the flavors and texture of the coffee as you enjoy it. Don’t expect to be able to identify every note immediately- appreciating the subtleties of different notes takes practice like anything else. By developing your palette over time, your everyday coffee can become more of an experience and you can enjoy an increased complexity and nuance that different beans from different origins possess.
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